SANTA CRUZ -- Chris Meakin, a fleet maintenance worker with the city of Santa Cruz, looked forward to her half-hour long chats with detective Sgt. Loran "Butch" Baker.
He would come by her shop to inspect cars used in undercover work and the two, who both started working for the city in the mid-1980s, would swap stories and a laugh or two. Baker even brought his teenage son to meet her when he joined became a community service officer a few years ago.
"He kept saying, 'I'm going to retire, I'm going to retire,' " Meakin said, her head hanging down after leaving Santa Cruz Memorial on Wednesday. "Every time I see his picture I choke up."
Meakin joined about 700 family members, friends, law enforcement officers and ordinary citizens who came to the funeral home Wednesday to view the flag-draped caskets of Baker, 51, and fellow detective Elizabeth Butler, 38, who will be honored in a public memorial service Thursday. The two were gunned down Feb. 26 by a sexual-assault suspect who was later shot and killed by authorities -- a tragedy that has shaken this seaside city of 60,000 like no event since the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.
Thousands are expected at the HP Pavilion in San Jose -- and thousands more will watch live video feeds in Santa Cruz -- for a solemn tribute to the first officers killed in the line of duty in the police department's 150-year history. Up to 200 law enforcement vehicles are expected to participate in a morning procession that will wind its way from the historic Beach Boardwalk over Highway 17 to the 18,000-seat arena.
Police observed a private viewing of the caskets Sunday at Santa Cruz Memorial, which has donated its services for the two families. Baker, a 28-year veteran, leaves behind a wife and three children. Butler, a 10-year veteran, had two children and a partner.
Chico police Sgt. Scott Zuschin, a Soquel High graduate, didn't know either officer but returned to his hometown to attend Wednesday's viewing and Thursday's service.
"When we have this kind of thing happen in our profession, in our community, it has a ripple effect," Zuschin said. "It truly is a brotherhood."
The caskets, positioned underneath twin stained-glass windows, were covered entirely in American flags. Photographs of the fallen officers were placed near their caskets at the front of a 60-seat receiving room, where many mourners sat for several moments in silent reverence.
Randy Krassow, owner of Santa Cruz Memorial, offered to host the viewing for residents who were not able to attend the San Jose services. He said many people also wanted a more intimate experience than watching a video feed at Kaiser Permanente Arena or Del Mar Theatre in Santa Cruz.
"People wanted an opportunity to honor the officers," Krassow said. "Seeing something on screen isn't the same."
Mary Lou Jaquith of Santa Cruz came to pay respects on behalf of her daughter, Pacifica police officer Stacy Jaquith, who considered Baker a mentor. Baker inspired the one-time Boardwalk security guard to attend the police academy, Jacquith said, adding her daughter was injured in 2010 after being dragged outside a car by a fleeing suspect.
"She couldn't be here, so I'm here," the mother said. "When you're related to a cop, this is what you think about all the time. I'm just so brokenhearted for the families."
Maxine Palmer of Santa Cruz dabbed tears as she walked out of the funeral home with daughter Latasha Prim, who worked with Baker's son, Adam, at Marini's at the Beach candy shop.
"He is really going to be missed," Palmer said of Sgt. Baker. "He was more than a police officer. He was a friend, and he loved everybody."
Maria Villa Hernandez and husband Gabriel, who live in Watsonville but work in Santa Cruz, didn't know Baker or Butler. Still, they brought their two children and granddaughter to pay respects "for what they did for our town. They are our guardian angels."
Santa Cruz County deputy probation officer Jennifer Buesing said the shootings have been traumatic for local law enforcement officers, who know losing a colleague is always possible but never really expected.
"They are all our partners," Buesing said. "I don't think you can be adequately prepared."
Follow Sentinel reporter J.M. Brown on Twitter at Twitter.com/jmbrownreports
HOW TO WATCH
Santa Cruz Police Memorial
WHAT: A procession and memorial service for Santa Cruz police Sgt. Loran 'Butch' Baker and detective Elizabeth Butler.
WHEN: Procession staging begins at 7:30 a.m. Thursday at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk parking lot at Third and Beach streets. Procession starts at 8:45 a.m. Memorial begins at noon.
MEMORIAL: Noon at HP Pavilion, 525 W. Santa Clara St., San Jose. No tickets; seats are first-come, first-served.
THE ROUTE: From Boardwalk parking lot on Third and Beach streets up Third Street across the San Lorenzo River to San Lorenzo Boulevard and up Ocean Street to Highway 17. Highway 17 to Highway 85 south to Highway 87 north; exit at Julian Street and turn left; to Autumn, turn left, and the arena will be to the right.
TRANSPORTATION: Organizers ask participants to carpool to San Jose or take a Metro bus. Walk, bike or carpool to the Santa Cruz locations.
KAISER PERMANENTE ARENA: Live feed at 140 Front St., Santa Cruz. Doors open at 10 a.m.; the feed starts at 11 a.m.
DEL MAR THEATRE: Live feed at 11 a.m. at 1124 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz.
TV: Santa Cruz Community Television, KSBW and KION plan live broadcasts. KION starts at 8:30 a.m., KSBW and Community Television start at 8:45 a.m. Commercial free coverage is expected throughout the service for KION, KSBW and Community Television. KION will have its normal newscast at 5 p.m. KSBW plans a recap from 6 to 6:30 p.m. with a repeat on its ABC affiliate from 7:30 to 8 p.m. Santa Cruz Community Television: Comcast channel 26 and Charter channel 72. KSBW: channels 6 and 706 on Comcast, channel 16 on Dish TV, channels 7 and 1007 on AT&T, and channels 7 and 787 on Charter. KION: Channels 5 and 705 on Comcast, channels 46 and 5271 on Dish TV, channels 10 and 780 on Charter, channels 4 and 1046 on AT&T.
INTERNET: A live webcast of the procession and memorial will air on www.communitytv.org, www.kionrightnow.com and www.ksbw.com.
RADIO: KSCO-AM 1080 will broadcast the event starting at 8 a.m. with the Good Morning Monterey Bay show on Ocean Street. It will cover the memorial at HP Pavilion and the event at Kaiser Permanente Arena in Santa Cruz.